Thursday, June 27, 2013

"The Vulnerable in International Society"

Ian Clark, currently E. H. Carr Professor of International Politics, Aberystwyth University, was educated at the University of Glasgow and at the Australian National University. He taught at Cambridge University from 1984 until his move to Aberystwyth in 1998. He held a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship 2002-4 and an ESRC Professorial Fellowship 2007-10. During 2012, he was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Melbourne. He has published many books and his most recent project has been a multi-volume study of international legitimacy: Legitimacy in International Society; International Legitimacy and World Society; and Hegemony in International Society. He is a co-author of Special Responsibilities: Global Problems and American Power. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, a Founding Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales, and an Honorary Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge.

Clark applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Vulnerable in International Society, and reported the following:
What makes people vulnerable? Just exactly what do combatants, small island states, refugees, and those in danger of contracting a tropical disease share in common? Page 99 of my book discusses people made vulnerable because of their movement, and reports as follows specifically about refugees: ‘there is a striking mal-distribution in the sharing of the refugee burden, and seemingly no good fit between the location of the refugees and those with the resources best placed to assist them. Some 90 per cent of the world’s refugees find themselves hosted by the poorest states’. Moreover, ‘people in flight are now subject to a range of practices that leave refugees vulnerable to decisions about which category is to apply.’

This brings out two key points about the vulnerabilities associated with movement. First, where you end up physically is largely hostage to international decisions and agreements. Secondly, how much protection you are afforded depends upon which category you are placed into (refugee, internally displaced, illegal migrant). In short, the precise nature of your individual vulnerability results from the application of general international rules and norms. What is demonstrably true of human movement applies equally with respect to political violence, responses to climate change, and the governance of global health. While it might seem at first glance that people are exposed to the ‘natural’ risks that apply in those contexts, this misses the crucial point that the degree of exposure is already ‘socially’ determined by the international regimes that distribute those resulting risks.

The application, or non-application, of the category of refugee is thus crucial to subsequent life chances for the person in flight. In the same way, the extent of the protection afforded in warfare (but not necessarily in other forms of political violence) depends critically on the application of the categories of combatant and non-combatant. While small island states are exposed to the risks of sea-level rise, they are more deeply exposed to the decisions or non-decisions of international society about the appropriate regime for managing climate change. Meanwhile, vulnerability to specific diseases is largely determined by historical neglect by international regimes of diseases that are geographically confined, and of little concern to international regulatory structures. The vulnerable are as we make them.
Learn more about The Vulnerable in International Society at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue